Assistant Director of Graduate Studies
My research and teaching range across both the “long eighteenth-century” (1660-1832) and the even longer “long Enlightenment,” the latter a philosophical problem traceable from the eighteenth century through its twentieth-century postwar dialecticalization. While I tend not to identify with any a particular subfield of scholarly interest or method, I do frequently find myself thinking about the history of the English novel and the philosophical traditions with which it conspires. My published and forthcoming work appears in journals such as ELH, Studies in Romanticism, differences, Cultural Critique, Modernism/Modernity, Novel, SEL, Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation and a range of other peer-reviewed journals, and I’ve explored questions of eighteenth-century racial science and mimesis; travel narratives of Africa and racial impersonation; the baroque visual aesthetics of William Hogarth; the disputative aesthetics of William Blake; the utterly strange intersection of pornography and enlightenment philology; revolutionary politics and the science of physiognomy; the historical time of disaster; and even, more recently, the appeal of mid twentieth century astrology and the critical theory of Theodor Adorno.
I was trained at the University of Tulsa (B.A.), Columbia University (M.A.) and the University of Iowa (Ph.D.), and have held tenure-track and tenured positions at the University of South Alabama and Michigan State University respectively (at MSU I also served as Director of Graduate Studies in English). I moved to Vanderbilt in 2010, where I have taught undergraduate and graduate courses in eighteenth-century studies, romanticism and critical theory. In 2015-2016 I directed the Vanderbilt Cinema and Media Arts Program, and since Fall 2016 I have served as the Assistant Director of Graduate Studies in English.
At present, I am working on two very different book manuscripts between which I restlessly shuttle back and forth. The first, The Right to the Novel: Undocumented Subjects in the Age of Austen, explores the relationship between cosmopolitan rights, cultures of documentality and novel worlds in fictions by Jane Austen, Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Charlotte Smith, Ann Radcliffe and other romantic era writers. I argue that the advent of a mobile, rights-bearing subject in political theory presents a peculiar problem for the modern novel, which must begin to compete with a new bureaucratic order for documentary power. Portions of the project recently appeared in Cultural Critique (“The Novel of Universal Peace”) and European Romantic Review (“Late Hospitality: Kant, Radcliffe and the Assassin at the Gate”).
The second project, entitled Catastrophe Enlightenment, examines the gradual shift from providential to secular accounts of catastrophic events beginning in the seventeenth century and ending in the romantic age. Catastrophe, I argue, exposes the mass (Hobbes) or the multitude (Spinoza) to time, laying bare in the process the event-structure of a history we now consider modern. In particular, its three sections describe three forms of secular time kept by instances of mass mortality—e.g. a time of dwelling within the ruins of the present; the singular experience of suddenness; and the anticipation of the disaster to come—and consider how these new temporal modalities come to shape certain enlightenment genres of critical inquiry, including the novel, universal history, history painting, and early forms of what we might call science or speculative fiction. Portions of the project have already appeared in Novel and Romantic Circles. The latter, entitled “Mary Wollstonecraft’s Perpetual Disaster,” won the Keats-Shelley Association Award for Best Essay in Romanticism for 2012-2013.